Summary: God shows His sovereignty and faithfulness when Jacob blesses Ephraim ahead of Manasseh and adopts them both as his own.
Before we get into our study I think it’s a good idea to review the main purpose of Genesis. This is a book that gives us the history of Israel and tells us some of the things God wants, but its overall purpose is the same as the rest of the Bible. This isn’t a book that stands alone; God made a promise to Adam and Eve that He would provide a redeemer, and the whole Bible is an account of how He did that. Genesis is just the beginning of that story. Exodus comes next, and then we go into the Israelites’ time of conquest, and then their judges, and then the kings and prophets, and finally the Messiah comes in Jesus Christ. So what we read in Genesis is more about leading up to that time than it is anything else, and we do well to interpret it that way.
The last time we were together we read about how God saved Israel from the terrible famine. But He did more than just save them, didn’t He? It was during that famine that God began to make a distinction between Israel and Egypt because Israel thrived and had plenty while Egypt merely survived. The Egyptians lost all their land; they sold their bodies to Pharaoh while Israel received plenty of food and jobs and even land. This is part of God’s promise to Abraham for a seed and for blessing. It’s building towards that ultimate promise of life in Christ.
Now, the famine comes to an end and life in Egypt resumes:
And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years.
So seventeen years pass, and we don’t know what happened during that time, but we’re brought back to the story just as Jacob is about to die. His last hours are recounted in chapters 47-49 and then the book ends at chapter 50. But we need to remember that this long account of his death isn’t merely for closure. This too is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it reveals something about God and His promise:
29And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: 30But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their buryingplace. And he said, I will do as thou hast said. 31And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.
At first this comes across as a sad verse: here’s Jacob, and he trusts God, but he’s about to die. But his death isn’t what’s so important; what we’re seeing is a statement of faith. Jacob believes that Israel will inherit the Promised Land, and he intends to go back there for burial. The writer of Hebrews comments on this faith and shows that this verse is far from a sad one. Really, this verse is about victory:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13-16).
So Jacob believes God, and this request is the evidence of his faith. He wants to go back, and when Joseph promises to take him he rests against the head of his bed and worships.
48:1And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
A little time passes and Jacob enters into his final hours. Joseph hears that he’s fallen sick so he takes his two boys with him to visit. I always picture the boys being 6-10 years old, but they were born sometime during the seven good years before the famine (Gen. 41:50-52). Jacob didn’t move to Egypt until the second year of the famine (Gen. 45:6) and he lived there for seventeen years, so the youngest boy was at least twenty years old.
2And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed. 3And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.